Tag Archive | "CFPB"

NADA Chairman Calls on Dealers to Rally Behind CFPB-Reform Bill


An important number that the nation’s auto dealers should know is 2663. The NADA’s battle to tame the CFPB continues and Senate bill S. 2663 is the next chapter. This bill, entitled, “Reforming CFPB Indirect Auto Financing Guidance Act,” is identical to last year’s House bill-H.R. 1737, which passed the House with a resounding, veto-proof majority vote of 332-96, including 88 Democrats.

NADA commends Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) for introducing this critical legislation this past March. Democrats and Republicans from both sides of the aisle have recognized a simple truth: Every consumer deserves access to competitive financing and great rates when they buy a new car or truck.

America’s franchised auto dealers strongly support S. 2663, and businesses that make, sell, service, auction and finance motor vehicles have also joined in this support. Practically the entire auto industry is united on this issue. Like H.R. 1737, the bill would rescind the CFPB’s flawed auto finance guidance, and make the bureau more transparent and accountable when issuing future guidance. The bill calls for a public comment period, coordination with regulatory agencies that possess authority over dealers and a study of the impact of the guidance on small businesses and, most importantly, consumers.

S. 2663 is a moderate bill that does not dictate a result. It’s important that dealers urge their Democratic senators to support S. 2663 when it comes up for a vote. Due to the shortened congressional session with the Presidential election looming, we need to be ready for a vote at any time.

The bill allows for transparency and public notice so the public has an opportunity to analyze and to comment on the CFPB’s attempt to change the auto financing market via “guidance.” And it protects fair credit laws and their enforcement in order to safeguard equal opportunity in auto financing.

We’re fighting for what dealers have known from the beginning: our current system of convenient dealer-assisted financing is fair and competitive. It boosts access to affordable credit for consumers and saves them money.

At the same time, NADA supports the Senate in its oversight to ensure that the CFPB’s actions do not hurt consumers, especially those with less-than-perfect credit. If the CFPB intends to disrupt our highly efficient model, it can only be justified through reliable and sound analysis. Yet the CFPB continues to try to eliminate a dealer’s ability to discount credit for consumers, despite a clear prohibition in Dodd-Frank against regulating dealers.

The optional NADA/NAMAD/AIADA Fair Credit Compliance Policy & Program is being adopted by a growing number of franchised dealers. Many are taking the proactive steps to ensure that the deserved participation that we earn when arranging financing falls within the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Each of the three major credit application aggregators-including several other companies-have licensed the use of the program to facilitate its adoption and implementation by dealers.

The significant flaws in the CFPB’s policy do not serve the nation’s 16,500 franchised dealers-or the consumers they proudly serve.

NADA will continue to support our members through these challenges as we prove that dealers provide the most competitive, efficient consumer benefits on the planet in our current auto finance model.

Visit NADA.org/autofinance to learn more about how the CFPB’s campaign to eliminate discounted financing rates is raising credit costs for consumers.

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CFPB Issues Proposal to End Forced Arbitration


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As expected, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau used its 34th field hearing to issue its proposed rule prohibiting mandatory arbitration clauses in finance contracts. Companies will still be able to include such clauses in their contracts under the bureau’s proposal; they just won’t be able to use such agreements to stop consumers from being part of a class action in court.

Issued on May 5, the proposal comes more than a year after the bureau issued its 728-page report on the use of pre-dispute arbitration clauses in consumer finance markets. The study, which reviewed more than 1,800 consumer finance arbitration disputes filed over a three-year period beginning in 2010 and more than 3,400 individual federal lawsuits, found that consumers were awarded less than $175,000 in damages and less than $190,000 in debt forbearance in arbitration suits vs. just less than $1 million in federal lawsuits.

“Today, we are proposing a new regulation for public comment and further consideration. If finalized in its current form, the proposal would ban consumer financial companies from using mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses to deny their consumers the right to band together to seek justice and meaningful relief from wrongdoing,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray at the hearing, held at the Albuquerque Convention Center. “This practice has evolved to the point where it effectively functions as a kind of legal lockout. Companies simply insert these clauses into their contracts for consumer financial products or services and literally, with the stroke of a pen, are able to block any group of consumer from filing joint lawsuits known as class actions.”

Through the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Congress asked the CFPB to study the use of mandatory arbitration clauses in consumer financial markets. Congress also gave the bureau the power to issue regulations that are “in the public interest, for the protection of consumers, and consistent with the study.”

Released in March 2015, the CFPB’s study concluded that very few consumers bring individual actions against their financial service provider, either in court or in arbitration. It also showed that at least 160 million class members were eligible for relief over the five-year period studied. Those settlements totaled $2.7 billion in cash, in-kind relief, and attorney’s fees and expenses. In its press release announcing the proposed rule, the bureau said the study’s findings do not account for the “the potential value to consumers of class action settlements requiring companies to change their behavior.”

But not all findings in the study supported the elimination of mandatory arbitration clauses. For instance, the study showed that in many class action cases where the principal purpose of seeking class relief was to pressure a settlement, members of the class action got nothing or next to nothing. It also found that class action cases almost never make it to trial, while a significant percentage of arbitration proceedings actually resolve the disputes. The study also showed that arbitration is both faster and more economical than litigation.

“Late last year, the CFPB released a study on arbitration, which the bureau says shows that consumers are harmed by arbitration agreements as opposed to class action lawsuits. However, a careful review of the CFPB’s study demonstrates that the opposite is true …,” the American Financial Services Association wrote in a news brief issued last Thursday. “In 60% of class actions studied by the CFPB, consumers received no remuneration at all.

“In the 15% of cases where consumers received monetary compensation in class actions, they received an average of just $32.25, after waiting an average of 23 months,” the associated added. “In contrast, consumers who prevailed in arbitration agreements, on average, received $5,389. The real winners in class action lawsuits are plaintiff’s attorneys, who divided approximately $424 million in fees.”

The CFPB said its proposal, which will be open for public comment for the next three months, would open up the legal system to consumers so they can file or join a class action someone else files. And while companies will still be able to include arbitration clauses in their contracts under the proposal, the clauses would have to say explicitly that they cannot be used to stop consumers from being part of a class action in court. The proposal would also provide the specific language companies must use.

Additionally, the bureau’s proposal would require companies with arbitration clauses to submit to the CFPB claims, awards, and certain related materials that are filed in arbitration cases. This would allow the bureau to monitor consumer finance arbitrations to ensure that the arbitration process is fair for consumers. The bureau is also considering publishing information it would collect in some form so the public can monitor the arbitration process as well.

“If arbitration truly offers the benefits that its proponents claim, such as providing a less costly and more efficient means of dispute resolution, then it stands to reason that companies will continue to make it available,” Cordray said at the bureau’s hearing. “So the essence of the proposal issued today is that it would prevent mandatory arbitration clauses from imposing legal lockouts to deny groups of consumers the right to pursue justice and secure meaningful relief from wrongdoing.”

That’s not how the AFSA views the bureau’s proposal. “Despite a wealth of evidence suggesting that the bureau’s interpretation of its own study is flawed, today’s rule, in its present form, would have a negative impact on customers by taking away a valuable tool to resolve disputes,” the associated stated. “AFSA will comment on the proposed rule and will continuing its ongoing dialogue with the CFPB.”

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NADA’s Koblenz to Shed Light on CFPB at Agent Summit


LAS VEGAS — Andrew D. Koblenz of the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) will speak at the upcoming Agent Summit and provide attendees with insights into the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)’s regulation of the auto finance market, organizers announced Monday. The sixth annual event will be held May 9–11, 2016, at the Venetian Palazzo Las Vegas.

“Understanding the trajectory of the CFPB’s activity regarding the auto finance market is critical to understanding the current regulatory environment in which we find ourselves,” Koblenz said. “It’s also a vital part of evaluating those concrete steps that dealers and lenders can and should be taking in the face of this new regulatory reality.”

Koblenz currently serves as executive vice president of legal and regulatory affairs for NADA, and also oversees the organization’s economic and research department. He is a frequent speaker and valued source for a number of industry events and publications.

At September’s Industry Summit, Koblenz presented “Solving the CFPB Problem,” a comprehensive review of actions undertaken by the CFPB, the effects of those actions on the industry and what the future holds for the oft-maligned agency. He is expected to touch on similar themes at Agent Summit.

“Andy never fails to connect with his audience, because he approaches the topic of compliance with hard-won expertise and disarming humor,” said David Gesualdo, show chair and publisher of Agent Entrepreneur and F&I and Showroom magazines. “He understands both the seriousness and absurdity of the CFPB’s efforts. He is the ideal speaker for a key topic at a critical juncture.”

Registration for Agent Summit is now open at the event’s website as well as by phone, fax and email. Attendees who register by April 4 will enjoy a $100 discount. To inquire about sponsorship and exhibition opportunities, contact Eric Gesualdo via email hidden; JavaScript is required or call 727-612-8826.

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House Committee, CFPB Director to Face Off Next Week


WASHINGTON – Richard Cordray and Republican members of the House Financial Services Committee are set to square off next Wednesday, March 16. It will be the first time the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will appear before the committee since Republican members issued two staff reports criticizing the bureau’s activities in the auto finance arena.

The last time Cordray appeared before the committee was this past September, according to F&I and Showroom magazine. Since then, Republican committee members published a report on Nov. 24, titled “Unsafe at Any Bureaucracy: CFPB Junk Science and Indirect Auto Lending,” and a second report on Jan. 20, titled “How the Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection Removed Anti-Fraud Safeguards to Achieve Political Goals.”

“The CFPB undoubtedly remains the single most powerful and least accountable federal agency in all of Washington. When it comes to the credit cards, auto loans and mortgages of hardworking taxpayers, the CFPB has unbridled, discretionary power not only to make those less available and more expensive, but to absolutely take them away,” said Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). “Consequently, Americans are losing both their financial independence and the protection of the rule of law.”

The November report revealed, among other things, that the bureau pursued its potentially “market-tipping” enforcement action against Ally Financial and Ally Bank even though internal bureau documents showed the statistical method used in its case against the finance source was “prone to significant error.” It also revealed that the bureau was able to secure its settlement with Ally because of “undue leverage” – Ally needed Washington regulators’ approval for a broader restructuring of its business.

Republican committee members again hammered the CFPB in their second report, which showed that some settlement checks being dispersed as part of the bureau’s $98 million settlement with Ally Financial and Ally bank had gone to white borrowers. It also charged that the bureau declined to employ a distribution method proposed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) – one that would provide “strong protection from criticism that we are giving damages to non-Hispanic white borrowers” – because it would limit the number of recipients to between 36,000 and 143,000 instead of the 235,000 consumers the CFPB alleged were harmed by Ally’s dealer markup policy.

“Political exigency required the bureau to design a process that would ensure that a sufficient number of alleged victims would be identified as eligible claimants; after all, if fewer claimants received checks than Director Cordray initially announced, the validity of the bureau’s disparate impact methodology would be called into question,” the report charged.

The reports haven’t slowed the CFPB’s activities, however. On Feb. 3, Toyota Motor Credit Corp. ended its three-year standoff with the CFPB and the DOJ regarding its dealer compensation policies by voluntarily agreeing to lower its markup caps and pay up to $21.9 million in restitution to minority borrowers the two regulators allege paid higher interest rates than white borrowers.

And as noted in the press release announcing Cordray’s appearance next week, the bureau recently announced it plans to propose regulations regarding small-dollar, short-term loans. That release also noted the bureau’s decision followed its regulation of the mortgage market by way of its Qualified Mortgage rule, which the committee charged “harmed consumer access and choice when it comes to mortgage by forcing many community financial institutions to downsize or shut down their mortgage operations.”

Speaking yesterday, March 9, at the Consumer Bankers Association’s annual conference in Phoenix, Cordray responded to criticism of its regulation of credit markets by enforcement, saying the criticism is “badly misplaced.”

“Certainly any responsible official or agency charged with enforcing the law is bound to recognize that they should develop a thoughtful strategy for how to deploy their limited resources most efficiently to protect the public,” he said. “That means working toward a pattern of actions that conveys an intelligible direction to the marketplace, so to create deterrence that can be readily understood and implemented.

“Others have framed this criticism as a suggestion that law enforcement officials should think through and explicitly articulate rules for every eventuality before taking any enforcement actions at all,” Cordray added. “But that aspiration would lead to paralysis because it simply sets the bar too high. Particularly in an area like consumer financial protection, the vast majority of our enforcement actions involve some sort of deception or fraud. And courts have long noted that trying to craft specific rules to root out fraud or untruth is a hopeless endeavor, as they would likely fail to cabin ‘ingenuity of the dishonest schemer.'”

Next Wednesday’s hearing begins at 10 a.m. ET at the Rayburn House Office Building. A live stream of the hearing can be found at www.financialservices.house.gov.

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Industry Trends for 2016


The New Year offers a perfect opportunity to consider anew the driving forces that will set the course for the automotive industry in 2016. Agent Entrepreneur reached out to agents, agency heads and executives from the F&I product provider segment to find out what 2016 will bring for the economy as a whole and the industry in particular, as well as what new trends agents should look for.

The Economy

On Dec. 16, the Federal Reserve announced an increase in short-term interest rates for the first time since 2006. Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen described the move as a vote of confidence for the ongoing economic recovery and said rates would only continue to rise, gradually, if the economy continues to move in the right direction.

Although the Fed’s announcement came after most of our sources had submitted their responses, interest rates led the discussion of the economy and how it will serve the automotive industry in the year ahead.

  • Interest Rates

William Gorra, president and CEO of Simoniz, listed interest rates among a number or economic indicators, including gas and energy prices, that he expects to remain low in 2016. These factors should help keep new-car sales increasing at the same pace, he said, which means F&I will continue to grow at a steady rate as well. “World events notwithstanding, I expect the economy in 2016 to be very similar to 2015,” he said.

Mark Mishler, CEO of Interstate National Corp., was one of several executives who predicted the interest-rate hike. He expects the trend to continue in 2016. “This could have an impact on consumer credit availability, but it appears that rate increases will be small, so there should be minor disruption to credit availability,” Mishler said. “However, I do believe that this will have a minor impact on retail sales in 2016.”

Glen Tuscan, president of Dealer Commitment Services, noted that, while higher interest rates would increase the cost of doing business, it is unlikely that it would put much of a damper on the recent wave of mergers and acquisitions in the dealer space.

“Auto retailers have been the beneficiaries of the attractive business environment that low rates have been providing these past years,” Tuscan said. “Should the increased cost of doing business look to be less attractive, I believe some large family groups of dealers will seek the 10 times-plus earnings that the acquisition market is offering and exercise the exit strategy they have been looking for.”

  • New-Vehicle Sales

By December, experts were predicting that U.S. dealers would sell 17.3 million new vehicles by the end of 2015, an increase of about 800,000 units over the prior year.

“Last year, the consensus predictions were above 16 million [vehicles sold], but nowhere near the 17.3 million it appears we will hit in 2015,” noted Jim Smith, CEO, SouthwestRe Inc. “Given the low gas prices and continuing favorable loan financing, there is no reason to believe that the number will fall in 2016, therefore we should reach or exceed the 17.3 million number.”

Randy Crisorio, president and CEO of United Development Systems Inc. (UDS), expects 2016 to be a “very good year,” but said dealers should expect competition among manufacturers to heat up in response to increasing sales. “That could have an impact on F&I, considering the tools deployed often concern interest rates, warranties and leasing,” he warned.

Robert Steenbergh, CEO of US Equity Advantage, predicted growth of around 2% to 3% over the 2015 tally. He also predicted that oil prices will remain low, which will keep home heating costs down and, hopefully, allow car buyers to spend more in the spring. He expects the “torrid pace” of sales to keep up and that “the march toward 18 million per year will continue.”

As Steven Rosenvall, Alpha Warranty Services Inc.’s CEO, pointed out, sales haven’t reached that pace since 2007, immediately before the global economic crisis. He also predicted that a widening trade deficit will spur sales even further. “Every time that happens, the dollar gets stronger. Every time the dollar gets stronger, so does household buying power.”

“All the forecasters are predicting an excellent car selling year for 2016, and I tend to agree,” said Steve Amos, president of GSFSGroup. “If we are able to avoid a major event that affects the world economy, we should be good.” Amos also noted that, while falling oil prices benefit car sales and the economy as a whole, cheap gas also brings negative consequences, particularly in his home state. “Here in Texas and in other states across the country, the price of oil affects employment and spending.”

Although Garret Lacour, CEO of RoadVantage, predicts economic growth will slow in 2016, he believes factory incentives will continue to drive volume. “There will also be more pressure on new-vehicle sales due to the record number of used vehicles that will be entering the market from lease programs,” he added.

Leasing is of interest to Tuscan as well. He believes the rate of leasing at dealerships will increase from 27 percent in 2015 to 30 percent in 2016. He also noted that dealers should be prepared for a glut of late-model used units as four straight years of growing sales comes full circle.

“I am confident that the industry will see increased pressure on pre-owned vehicle values,” Tuscan said. “The past four years of strong new-vehicle sales will result in increased supply of these vehicles, requiring dealers to prepare for the onslaught.”

  • Unemployment

Agents will keep a close eye on unemployment rates in 2016. More full-time workers means more flexibility in spending and more opportunities to invest in the newer vehicles they want and the F&I products they need to protect them. Dave Duncan, president of Safe-Guard Products International, noted that the employment landscape is improving with every report that comes out, an indication that the economy as a whole is on the right track.

Brett Hutchinson, PermaPlate’s CFO, also sees the continuing decrease of unemployment rates as a good sign for the overall health of the economy for 2016. He noted that a strong workforce, along with low oil prices and interest rates, will push the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate (SAAR) to an all-time high. “We believe that 2016 will also be a great year for the automotive industry,” he said.

  • Presidential Election

“Traditionally, during national election years, the economy has shown a history of growth and promise,” said John Vecchioni, national sales director for United Car Care. “If history holds true, this should be a very good year again for the automotive industry.”

AAGI’s president, Tim Brugh, fears the elections could have the opposite effect. While elections do tend to boost the economy, he pointed out, it is also true that the economy can suffer during the last year of a two-term president’s tenure. 2016 could very much be a rollercoaster ride, he said, noting that he does believe that, when the dust settles, sales will be slightly higher than in 2015.

NAE/NWAN’s president, Kelly Price, agreed with Brugh. And because she believes the presidential election could hurt rather than help the economy in 2016, she believes a flat finish is the best one can hope for.

“Consumers seem to be anxious, and this year’s election will be very intense,” Price said. “I am just looking at it from a forecasting perspective as a flat year, equal to 2015, which would be a win for all of us. A decline would certainly be disappointing and would catch many dealers and administrative partners off-guard.”

Crisorio agreed, saying that “world unrest” and a “crazed political landscape” at home could cause credit availability to tighten, slowing sales of vehicle and F&I products.

“The good news for the automotive industry is that a major driver of the economic growth will be the continued rise in consumer spending,” said Bob Pruitt, president of Cal-Tex Protective Coatings Inc. “The industry should sustain sales levels of 17 million-plus in cars and light trucks for 2016. Bolstering this level of optimism are several factors, including continued lower interest rates, access to credit, gradual increase in employment numbers and steadily lowering of oil prices. All of these factors continue to positively impact consumer confidence.”

The Industry

Within the industry, our experts pointed to an increasingly hostile regulatory climate and the proliferation of new technology as the key drivers of change in 2016.

  • The CFPB

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has dominated industry news headlines for the past several years and is not expected to lower its profile in 2016.

“The CFPB will continue to focus on rate and try to minimize the variance from one customer to the next. On the surface, that sounds fair. Of course, it is not that easy,” said Duncan, noting that flat rates will actually end up costing some consumers more: Those with excellent credit will have to pay the same higher rates as those who have had credit challenges. Educating the public and the regulatory agencies on how the system works (and why) will be paramount in 2016.

“I don’t think we’ll see any new rules or regulations within F&I this coming year, but it’s possible we’ll see something related to finance reserve caps, and eventually product markups,” said Lacour. “More immediately, because of the CFPB’s continued presence in the automotive industry, transparency is more crucial than ever, and dealerships that are taking strides to be transparent will ultimately fare better in the long run.” He noted that having a comprehensive compliance program in place is a crucial part of that transparency. Dealers who take steps to protect not only themselves but their customers will fare far better, no matter what direction the regulatory winds blow.

Jimmy Atkinson, COO of AUL Corp., agreed, noting that he has been keeping a close watch on Congress, particularly regarding a recent CFPB restructuring bill that passed the House of Representatives but faces an uphill battle in the Senate and the White House. “It will be interesting to see if the CFPB reform that cleared the House of Representatives recently makes it through the Senate. My thought is that the anticipation of continued penalties from the CFPB will drive the lenders to continue moving toward a flat rather than markup in APR.”

  • Self-Regulation

Atkinson agreed with Lacour that the current environment calls for absolute product compliance and transparency. Gorra added that agents have an opportunity to ward off the “watchful eye” of federal regulators who may wish to establish new rules for the sale of F&I products. “I think it is important that we all ‘self-regulate’ and challenge ourselves and our providers so we can deliver the most credible services to the consumer.”

To truly promote transparency and production in the finance office, agents and dealers must properly vet potential partners and only do business with those that have track records of proven success, said Bob Corbin, president and CEO of IAS.

“Do they know how to optimize profits without finance reserve? Are they experts at creating multiple streams of income from products and services that provide customers genuine value?” Corbin asked. “The dealers who put their customers’ best interests first are going to be the ones who will come out of an unpredictable 2016 the best.”

Crisorio believes dealers have begun to realize that adapting to a compliant culture is a recipe for increased F&I production. For most dealers, he said, “The ‘Wild West’ era has been over for a long time.”

  • F&I Technology

An increasingly digitized automotive marketplace has brought an influx of new technology to the F&I office, a trend our experts expect will continue into 2016 and beyond.

“The way F&I is being handled in the majority of dealerships is simply outdated and in desperate need of an update,” said Corbin.

“Eventually the automotive world catches up with the real world, and that should really start to escalate in 2016. For F&I, that means doing things online,” said Steenbergh, noting that consumers’ growing reliance on peer reviews and analytical buying suggestions cannot be ignored. “Making the F&I buying process more like what consumers are accustomed to will lead to less friction and more sales.”

Pruitt noted that the increasing access to data, pricing and reviews of products and services sold in the F&I office will give consumers unprecedented bargaining power. Along with the increasing regulatory situation, F&I providers, agents and dealers will need to be able to very clearly articulate the value of these products, and be able to back up their claims — and they will have to do so quickly.

“Consumers increasingly desire a seamless car-buying experience that is faster and more efficient,” Pruitt said. “Innovations in the F&I office and at the supplier level that speed up and streamline the buying transaction will be well-rewarded.”

To that end, Gorra predicted that electronic contracting will play an increasing role, evolving into a complete, intelligence-building platform that will allow consumers to access and sign contracts on tablets and smartphones.

Lacour agreed, noting that “econtracting will continue to gain traction as consumers across all demographics become more comfortable with paperless transactions in their everyday lives.”

“We will continue to see more dealerships switching to econtracting, though we believe the big push is still a few years out,” said Hutchinson.

“I think technology will continue to revolutionize the way that dealers interact with finance companies, the consumer and their product providers. Dealers need to continue to look at ways to streamline their operations with the goal to have a fully automated front to back system in their dealership,” said Mishler. He noted that these systems will need to include everything from the DMS to F&I menus to contracting for the vehicle and every F&I product. It will all continue to move toward a single, unified, seamless system, instead of multiple islands of information that have difficulty sharing data.

New technology can be a rather frightening prospect, noted Brugh, because it represents the unknown, and the idea of abandoning proven processes is an unsettling one. However, he noted, the hesitation is diminishing as more dealerships integrate with more administrators. This makes dealers more likely to look for ways in which technology can augment existing processes, rather than replacing them completely. “In 2016 it will be about educating the dealership’s management team about the overall time saving, and the simplicity of electronic transactions,” he said.

But given all of the changes, Vecchioni noted, F&I professionals shouldn’t lose sight of the real goals. “Technology will continue to drive the retail automotive business. Processes will and should remain the same, they should just be followed much more religiously. The words or questions might change but the discovery and building of value never should.”

“Technology will continue to evolve into 2016, but it does not mean that it requires re-invention of the proven methods that are currently in the marketplace,” agreed Tuscan. “What I do believe it means is a more transparent interactive enhancement even to the best processes in F&I departments today.”

  • The Evolving F&I Process

Duncan believes that another change coming to the F&I office is the introduction of products much earlier in the sales cycle. As of now, F&I is typically broached at the end of the transaction, leaving car buyers with few opportunities to properly digest the information. As consumers continue to make more purchasing decisions online, “They will one day be demanding a finalized pricing exercise before they even come into the store,” Duncan said. “Some are already.”

Eric Fifield, vice president of agency services for EFG Companies, agreed, noting that younger buyers’ purchasing power will continue to increase in 2016. “Dealers are coming to the conclusion that their sales processes need to change, starting with their communication with online consumers,” he said, noting that F&I will need to find a way to provide more details and information to the online consumer. He predicted that will have the added benefit of speeding up the process once they do arrive at the dealership.

“Through online contracting and system integration, we see the F&I industry taking more steps toward a complete, online vehicle purchase experience,” said Matt Croak, president of Wise F&I. He agreed that the F&I portion will need to be moved to much earlier in the process, and will need to be available online. In particular, he agreed with Duncan that consumers will ultimately wish to complete the entire purchase online, and F&I will need to find new ways to present and sell products.

Croak said that, while such a change will require a huge shift, the end result will benefit everyone in the cycle. Consumers will get a faster, more streamlined and more transparent buying process, and dealers and their supporting partners will see greater sales and fewer chargebacks from buyers who later change their minds.

“Clearly F&I processes are evolving and changing, and we embrace the change,” Amos said. “We believe this evolvement of selling and financing is good for our business and the future of the F&I department.” He added that GSFSGroup has “changed and revamped” its approach to F&I training in response to those trends, a sentiment echoed by Crisorio.

“Training will remain critical for those looking to maximize profitability in both sales and F&I while setting the stage for stability in the coming years,” Crisorio said. “We all remain in the people business.”

Smith pointed out that social media has permanently altered individual buying habits, and its appeal is not limited to Millennials. “Social media is a focus that all companies with a consumer presence, or even companies once removed from consumers, should understand and emphasize.”

The way the dealership and F&I follow up with leads is also going to be affected more and more by technology. Atkinson noted that outdated technology can be overlooked if the office is following up using text messaging and email, and providing information to consumers on their smartphones when and where they want it. “With customers utilizing smartphones to gather information, responsiveness with transparent, accurate information is paramount,” he stressed.

Finally, Price predicted the evolution of the hybrid sales and F&I manager will continue into 2016, although, she noted, that is not a change that will happen overnight, or even within the next 12 months. However, she does believe that, with the pace at which technology is evolving, within the next five years, providers, agents and dealers should be prepared for that shift.

“Although I don’t have a formal opinion on which process is better or worse, it will be interesting to see how it affects F&I penetrations in general,” Price said.

Trends to Look for

So with all of the above taken into account, which trends will our experts be keeping their eyes on in 2016? Their answers ran the gamut from leasing to new products to the dealership experience.

  • Leasing

Gorra noted that increasing numbers of off-lease vehicles will offer “a whole new challenge and a whole new opportunity for F&I professionals.” Vecchioni agreed, saying that he suspects leasing incentives will continue to play a much greater role in 2016 as OEMs continue to court customers who find that a lease structure is far more attractive than financing.

“Leasing has grown quite a bit in the automotive industry over the last three years, so I will be watching for the effect of lease returns on the used-car market,” said Brugh. The increase of leasing — and of used lease vehicles flooding the market — will continue to put pressure on used car prices, which will make it harder for F&I to secure consumer loans that include product sales.

Adding to the pressure, consumers trading in leases will bring little to no equity to their next transaction, which means F&I professionals will have to work harder on every level. This will also snowball into products like GAP, which, Brugh noted, will be directly affected in terms of both losses and by the lower prices and longer loan terms needed to get consumers approved.

  • Consolidation

Steenbergh predicted that the recent trend toward consolidation will continue in the New Year, and not just among dealerships. DMS and other software providers could be affected as well. “There is a lot of private equity money looking at deals on both sides, and I expect that a couple of big ones will occur next year,” Steenbergh said.

Smith said the purchase of the Van Tuyl Group by Berkshire Hathaway, which was finalized in early 2015, could prove to be a major turning point. “They have the ability to transcend all revenue-producing facets of car sales, especially in the F&I area,” he said. “This includes all F&I revenue streams, from the dealer’s F&I income to the insurance company income and everything in between, including the agent, the trainers, the administrators and peripheral service providers.

“It will be interesting to see how this plays out not only from their organizational structure, but for other organizations that might consider expansion into other revenue-producing areas.”

  • The Customer Experience

The time customers spend at the dealership and the level of service they receive is another area our experts believe will require close consideration in 2016.

“The changing face of retail will require a shift in dealer priorities,” Corbin said, adding that dealers will need to invest in technologies that make the entire car-buying process faster. He noted that consumers will demand a more seamless, streamlined experience that extends from the initial agreement to buy to the F&I product presentation.

To rise to that challenge, Corbin said, F&I will need to evolve. The change will come both in the form of new technologies designed to speed up the process and make it more transparent to the end consumer, but it will also involve investing in more training to help F&I managers adapt their skills to the needs of the modern consumer.

“Proper disclosure, answering all consumer questions as well as a respectful attitude has been and will always be the road to follow,” said Amos. He and his colleagues believe strongly in the value of their products, he said, adding, “They just need to be sold.”

  • Customer Retention

Fifield agreed, noting that customer retention and brand enhancement will be critical for dealers who want to maintain market share in 2016. Dealers will increasingly look to third-party agencies to help them increase their opportunities and improve their processes, including helping them implement more comprehensive retention marketing campaigns and develop and better advertise their points of differentiation in their markets.

Dan Brancaccio, national sales manager for NitroFill, predicted that more dealers will invest in well-designed, well-executed service retention programs.

“With vehicles requiring less scheduled maintenance and warranty work at an all-time low, service drive traffic will continue to become a focus and key growth opportunity,” Brancaccio said, listing prepaid maintenance and “tires for life” as examples of programs that could become more popular in 2016.

  • Transparency

It is impossible to look at the big-picture trends without touching on the CFPB and the increasing need for transparency across every department in the dealership. Price said she will be closely watching to see what steps the CFPB takes in the new year, but she also cautioned that the industry needs to pay attention to regulations in general, and not just on the CFPB.

“This is an area that I would hesitate to comment on, as the CFPB and attorneys general seem to be enamored with the F&I space in general,” Price said. “It is hard to predict the changes, but be sure of this: There will be some!”

“Things don’t change because the calendar flips to 2016. This is a long process,” added Duncan, who predicts that econtracting and transparent menu presentations will continue to gain ground in 2016 and beyond. “Customers today are well-informed, short on time and patience, and seek significant value not only in the vehicle they choose, but also in the store they select,” he said.

That much is evident in the fact that, today, the average consumer only visits one dealership before making a purchase decision, compared to as many as five 20 years ago. Consumers are walking onto the lots already knowing everything they need to about the dealership itself, the vehicle they want to purchase and the experience they want to have.

“It’s no longer about just meeting their expectations,” Duncan said. “That was 10 years ago. Today, it is all about getting a ‘Wow!’”

Lacour agreed, noting that consumers have made it very clear that they want to fully understand the value of the F&I products they are purchasing. They don’t just want a slick presentation, they want to understand exactly what the product is, how it works and how it would apply to them specifically. He said that F&I menu presentations, for that reason, will only continue to gain in popularity, and he also believes more dealers will begin to feature F&I products and their benefits on their websites, so consumers have a chance to understand their value propositions before walking through the door.

These presentations won’t replace F&I managers, Lacour stressed, but they will help to take down the wall that goes up when consumers feel like they’re being taken by surprise with items they weren’t expecting, making F&I product sales a smoother and faster process.

“Dealers, on the whole, are embracing a move toward transparency across the dealership,” said Atkinson. “That is beginning to happen in F&I, as you see dealer websites adapting to present F&I products in an inviting way by utilizing video as well as providing basic information.”

  • F&I Products

We asked our experts to predict which F&I products will be the biggest sellers in 2016. First on the list for many were protection products, which “will always be the biggest opportunity to help customers,” according to Vecchioni.

“Since the length of time a consumer keeps his or her new vehicle continues to rise, F&I products that protect the consumer’s investment will increase in popularity,” Pruitt said.

Corbin noted that, because of those factors, maintenance protection plans and wear-and-tear coverage — for finance and lease deals, respectively — will be hot sellers in 2016. He also noted that F&I products focused on the increasing technology in vehicles will continue to do very well as consumers look to protect themselves from the wide range of glitches that could happen in those systems.

As leasing continues to expand, Duncan said, F&I product sales will follow. “The focus will be on tire-and-wheel, excess wear and tear, planned maintenance, paintless dent repair, precision care and others.”

“Many F&I managers have looked at [protection products] as a one-or-the-other type of sale. I see them as a combo sale, so the customer is protected both during the leasing term and at lease turn-in,” Brugh said. “Remember that the customer doesn’t usually get a bill for excess wear and tear until they have already leased their next car.”

Amos predicted that higher loan-to-value ratios and a slight drop in used-car sales will boost GAP sales. He also believes prepaid maintenance will continue to penetrate at higher rates as dealers realize how effective they are at retaining service business.

But vehicle service contracts will still be the leader in the F&I office for the foreseeable future, Duncan said, despite the fact that the combination of 36-month leases and four-year factory warranties make VSCs a hard sell. “Used vehicles will offer a great opportunity to make up for any loss of VSC sales on new vehicles. We will see a tremendous influx of off-lease inventory that will fall into a sweet spot for VSC sales.”

Tuscan predicted that pre-owned vehicle service contracts will be the biggest sellers in 2016. Atkinson pointed out that “Service contracts continue to have the highest profitability in the product space and are recognized as high value for the consumer,” adding that the VSC market will have to adapt as more car buyers invest in hybrid and fully electric vehicles.

Another factor driving VSC sales, said Price, is the number of recalls and other troubles manufacturers faced in 2015, and which are still fresh in the minds of consumers going into 2016. “With the many TSBs, recalls and mechanical issues the manufacturers are dealing with, VSC penetrations are higher than they have been in the past, and we see that continuing.”

“I am a firm believer that extended service contracts will continue to be the main product sold in the F&I department,” said Mishler. “Peace of mind for the consumer will always be the main focus and having the contracts financed in the loan makes it affordable.”

Prepaid maintenance is another product that will do well in both the finance and lease deals. Fifield reiterated that customer retention is key here: The goal for F&I will be to sell products that keep consumers returning multiple times throughout their ownership cycle. “Prepaid maintenance plans that offer consumers a large discount on maintenance up front will be in high demand, as well as updated debt-protection programs that are more aligned with consumer needs.”

“Dealers continue to try to differentiate themselves from other dealers, and loyalty programs and products are a definite ingredient for differentiation,” Smith added. To that end, he expects more requests for private-labeled products that will help to reinforce the dealership’s brand, rather than that of the product provider.

Finally, Lacour said, bundled products could gain in popularity as more dealers realize the competitive advantage that comes with selling value. “These products will be successful because they offer a distinct, robust value proposition,” noted Lacour.

Steenbergh agreed, noting, “I think the trend toward bundled products and services will continue as providers look to strengthen their value propositions.”

Considering all the driving forces at work in the automotive industry, it’s clear agents will have numerous opportunities to do just that in the year ahead. Sales are on the incline, but neither regulatory threats nor the pressure to digitize the buying process and demonstrate the value of dealer-arranged financing and F&I products are likely to abate anytime soon. The ability to shepherd dealers through a series of sweeping changes to the way they do business will undoubtedly separate the good agents from the great ones in 2016 and beyond.

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What Is a CMS and Why Do I Need One?


You may have heard of the term “CMS” and wondered what it meant. In the context of regulatory compliance, it stands for “compliance management system.”

A CMS provides dealership management with a systematic framework for compliance, from cradle to grave, in the lifecycle of products and services subject to supervision by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

A properly designed CMS will establish responsibilities and lines of communication and ensure compliance is “baked into” business processes. It will also provide a mechanism to review proper execution and to correct problems. A CMS represents “best practices” for dealers, and should help lower the risk of violating the law and harming consumers.

Agents can do their clients a great service by introducing this concept and taking an active role in building each dealer’s CMS. Let’s take a closer look at why these systems are so important and how they are designed.

F&I Under Fire

The CFPB does not have direct oversight over new- and used-vehicle dealers under certain circumstances. More particularly, dealers are exempted if they meet two requirements: first, they are predominantly engaged in the sale, lease and servicing of motor vehicles; and second, they routinely assign retail installment sales contracts to third-party finance entities.

On the other hand, “buy here, pay here” (BHPH) dealers, who own their own finance companies and do not routinely assign retail installment sales contracts (or retail leases) to unrelated finance entities may be subject to CFPB authority. The same is true for dealerships that do not have a service department.

Keep in mind that the CFPB has jurisdiction over auto financing at large banks, credit unions and affiliates with assets of more than $10 billion dollars. The CFPB has also revised the definition of “larger participants” to include any nonbank auto finance companies (e.g. captive finance companies) that make, acquire or finance 10,000 loans or leases in a year. The CFPB estimates that these nonbank auto finance companies originate 90% of all nonbank auto loans and leases.

The CFPB also has jurisdiction over indirect lenders under many laws such as the Equal Credit Opportunity Act (ECOA), unfair or deceptive acts or practices under Dodd-Frank, the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Consumer Leasing Act (CLA) the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the privacy of consumer financial information standards set by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley (GLB) Act, among others.

The ECOA generally makes it illegal for a lender to discriminate on any prohibited basis, including race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status and age. ECOA issues can arise in dealer-arranged financing when the dealer has the opportunity to increase the auto loan interest rate above the rate quoted by the indirect lender, typically referred to as “markup” or “dealer reserve.” The ECOA risk is that the markup is illegally based upon prohibited factors. So while there is a carveout for dealers as described above, the CFPB can and does still have the very real ability to supervise and affect dealers and their businesses.

CMS Essentials

Now that you have some idea about the extent to which the CFPB can affect business on the dealership floor, your dealers still may ask why they need a CMS. The short answer is that the CFPB says so and it makes good business sense. A CMS demonstrates a commitment to compliance with applicable consumer protection laws. If that doesn’t convince your dealers, remind them that a customer who feels they have been treated fairly makes for repeat business and referrals.

The CFPB Supervision and Examination Manual (Ver. 2, October 2012) states, in part, “The CFPB expects every regulated entity under its regulation and supervision authority to have an effective compliance management system (CMS).” When the CFPB starts an investigation, they typically start by asking for a copy of the written CMS. How would your dealers answer that question?

A CMS is expected to show policies and procedures showing how the business complies with federal consumer protection laws. Do you have this? A CMS should demonstrate operational and training procedures. Have you implemented such a program? A CMS should show auditing, testing and complaint management. What is your process for these functions?

Ultimately, a CMS improves customer satisfaction and customer retention which, in turn, increases profitability. A CMS just makes good business sense and helps to reinforce the good name and reputation of the dealership. The old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure applies doubly in the compliance space. So don’t delay. Go out there and help your dealers by implementing a CMS today!

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